Our modern food system has obscured our relationship to Nature, leading us to believe we are rulers of the environment rather than integral parts of a larger whole. In its most basic sense, Shumei Natural Agriculture farming is the process of correcting that—returning us to a relationship of cooperation with the rest of the natural world.
How does it work? The simple answer is that it’s always different—each farmer creates something unique. That’s because Natural Agriculture is not a method for growing food, it’s an individual relationship with Nature. In conventional agriculture, the natural world is shaped to fit the needs of the farmer, improved or tamed as necessary to produce the desired food crops at a profitable rate. In contrast, Natural Agriculture is the practice of building a balanced partnership with the soil, plants and other living things on and around a farm. Perhaps the most challenging part of the process is abandoning the perception that we are superior, and that the farmer’s work is to improve plants and soils. The first lesson of Natural Agriculture is that Nature already has all it needs to thrive. And so Natural Agriculturists eschew chemicals, hybrid seeds, manure and other additives to the natural system. Instead, they recognize that soils and plants have a natural ability to heal and sustain themselves. Their work is to optimize conditions for their “partners” to use those abilities, for instance by saving and replanting seed so that a plant can adapt to its environment over successive seasons and improve its resilience to the changing climate.
Founder Mokichi Okada called Natural Agriculture “the art of agriculture”, for it entails more than the familiar duties of farming. The best practitioners are adept at weeding and plowing, but just as important is the less tangible work, such as carefully observing plants, soil and insects to understand how they interact. This knowledge enables farmers to shift the system toward growing their plants in a healthier and more environmentally sustainable way, without bringing in any additives from the outside. Of course this relationship between farmer and farm is necessarily influenced by the farmer’s bias toward certain plants; the very premise of agriculture is to influence the natural world to produce more food for consumption for self-sufficiency or to generate income. What makes Natural Agriculture different is that it redefines that behaviour: it is necessary that we take to survive, but a Natural Agriculturist balances that act with gratitude, humility, and compassion. This very conscious interaction with the natural world is essentially a practice of respect, one that informs all aspects of life.